French Guiana

Ironically, this tiny South American country is actually the second largest region of France. Covering over 83,500 square kilometres it began its colonial career as a slave colony, before being gradually transformed into a notorious penal colony. Today it can boast the highest GDP per capita of anywhere in South America. Considered a part of the European Union and adopting the Euro as the official currency, this unusual blend of French colonial tradition and Amerindian culture only adds to its intriguing charm. Add in some of the most diverse plant and animal life on the planet and the presence of the European Space Agency’s primary launch site near the equator and you have one of the continent’s most fascinating destinations.

To the north-east lie an idyllic mix of mountains, rivers and beaches, whilst the central part of the country is blanketed in thick equatorial jungles that harbour some 700 species of birds and over 170 different types of mammal. What it lacks in heritage sites, this remarkable country more than makes up for in colourful colonial architecture and the almost macabre appeal of its less than salubrious past. The Îles du Salut were once anything but a salvation for the poor souls condemned to end their days there. Today though, this once infamous prison is a haven for sea turtles, capuchins and macaws, where nature has softened the harsh outlines of its grim architecture to something almost picturesque.